Is it a scam? Tips for identifying fraudulent schemes and who to call for help | New
Your utilities are about to be cut. Your grandson is in serious trouble. The delivery of your medication has been delayed.
Scammers targeting the elderly are experts at unbalancing their victims by presenting urgent situations that can only be resolved by an immediate transfer of money.
“People make bad decisions when time pressure is on, so scammers create a sense of urgency,” Palo Alto Police Captain James Reifschneider said.
In times of emotional stress, people get scammed every day, he told this news agency.
“There’s a misconception that those who fall into the trap are unsophisticated or particularly stupid, but the reality is that well-heeled people, educated people, people who are very, very smart, of all ages, fall into the trap because the scammers are very, very good at their job – tugging at heartstrings, manipulating. It’s a craft they’ve perfected,” he said.
Since 2019, the number of reported senior fraud cases in Palo Alto has increased: Palo Alto police received 43 reports of fraud or abuse from victims 65 and older last year, down from 42 in 2020 and 21 in 2019, Reifschneider said, adding that he believes such incidents are “grossly underreported.”
According to 2021 FBI Elder Fraud Report. Dollar losses were up 74% from 2020. The average loss per victim was $18,246 and 3,133 people lost over $100,000. California reported 12,951 victims over the age of 60 – the highest number in the country, according to the FBI report.
The types of fraud highlighted in the report include romance scams, investment fraud, government impersonation, and tech support fraud.
Reifschneider said the “grandson scam” is also one of those scammers used to manipulate the elderly. A caller claiming to be the person’s grandson will make a short call suggesting an emergency, such as an arrest.
“The grandmother might feel embarrassed that she didn’t immediately recognize her grandson’s voice, and already they’re tugging at her heartstrings,” Reifschneider said. “They’ll often say to grandparents, ‘The reason I’m calling is so I can trust you, and I don’t want mum and dad to know about it.’ When a grandparent is told by someone they believe to be their grandchild, “I have this special relationship with you,” it’s very flattering, and it perpetuates trust on the call. and makes the grandparent more willing to cooperate,” he said. .
The disturbing conversation with the “grandson” is intentionally brief, to avoid detection, before the call is forwarded to someone else identified as a police officer, lawyer or bond guarantor, who then guides the victim through the payment process.
When victims realize they’ve been duped, they feel stupid, embarrassed and often choose not to report the fraud, he said.
Sometimes, the elderly also fear that their children or grandchildren will conclude that their faculties are fading and push to reduce their autonomy.
“You would think, ‘I wouldn’t fall for the trap – I would recognize my grandson’s voice if he called me,'” Reifschneider said. “But I’ll tell you, scammers wouldn’t engage in this sort of thing if it didn’t work.”
While older adults are certainly targeted, the truth is that these types of scams happen to people of all ages, Reifschneider said. Scammers may make dozens or hundreds of calls to find a victim.
“You don’t have to be successful very often for it to be lucrative,” he said.
The Palo Alto Police Department website describes some of the most common scams – including telemarketing schemes, credit card fraud, IRS, utility and grandson scams – and steps people can take to protect themselves.
Scammers are rarely caught and prosecuted, Reifschneider said, adding that constantly changing phone numbers they call from make it difficult for police to write search warrants.
The technology allows scammers to impersonate local phone numbers while calling from anywhere. They also use “spoofing” products to make it look like the phone call is from the police or utility department. “Don’t rely on your caller ID to validate who’s calling you – unfortunately that’s a technology problem that exists,” he said.
He advises people to be wary of any unsolicited phone calls from any business or person asking for money on the spot.
Reifschneider advises people not to answer calls from numbers they don’t recognize. Legitimate callers will leave a voicemail, he said.
“Anytime someone pressures you to make a decision or provide personal information creating a sense of urgency, that’s a red flag,” he said. “They’re trying to force you into making a bad decision by making it an emergency.”
Scam victims often tell police they had a gut feeling things weren’t right, but fought that feeling due to time pressure or emotional manipulation, he said .
“Follow your instincts, even if it’s just to insist on taking a break so you can ask your spouse or a family member, or contact the police department,” he said.
Police will take fraud reports and investigate leads, if there are any, he said. They may also refer cases to other jurisdictions, including federal agencies such as the FBI, Secret Service, and Postal Inspection Service.
The Federal Internet Crime Complaints Center at ic3.govallows victims to report an incident, which is then reviewed and forwarded to the appropriate agency.
Because arresting and prosecuting scammers is difficult, educating the public about how people can avoid becoming a victim is key, Reifschneider said.
• Love scam: Scammers pose as interested romantic partners through dating sites to capitalize on victims’ desire to find mates.
• Tech support scam: Scammers pose as tech support representatives and offer to fix non-existent computer problems, by accessing victims’ devices remotely.
• Grandparents scam: The scammers pose as a parent claiming to have an immediate and urgent financial need.
• Government impersonation scam: Scammers pose as government employees and threaten to arrest or sue victims unless they agree to provide funds or other payments.
• Sweepstakes/Charity/Lottery Scam: Scammers claim to work for legitimate charities in order to gain the trust of victims. Or they claim their targets have won a foreign lottery or contest, which they can collect for a “fee”.
• Home repair scam: Scam artists show up in person and bill homeowners in advance for home improvement services they never provide.
• TV/radio scam: Scammers target potential victims using illegitimate advertisements about legitimate services, such as reverse mortgages or credit repair.
• Family/caregiver scam: The scammers are relatives or acquaintances of the victims and take advantage of them or get their money in some other way.
• Internet or financial fraud – FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center: ic3.gov
Anyone age 60 or older who has been the victim of some type of financial fraud or internet scheme can file a report with the FBI.
• Phone scams
Adults who have been victims of a phone scam can call or file a report online with the local police department.
Mountain View Police Department: online here |650-903-6344
Palo Alto Police Department: cityofpaloalto.org | 650-329-2413
For emergencies or to report a crime in progress, dial 911.
— Fraud program information provided by the FBI